I used to joke that I’d be the worst person to pick someone out of a police lineup.
He leaned against the door writing into a notepad. “Ma’am, do you think you’d recognize the robber if you saw him again?”
It was dark. The streets were blanketed in the kind of quiet reserved for after the bars have closed, with barely a whistle of tires on the pavement.
I was walking home in the San Francisco Mission, at nearly midnight on a weekday. A backpack was slung over my shoulder, and I was alone.
Statistically, these were not my best odds.
“Do you need an ambulance?”
“No, I’m fine,” I responded. “Just a little bruised.”
“Are you sure?” The cop asked me. There were two of them in my studio apartment, dwarfing the space around them. Glass Moroccan lanterns hung from the ceiling behind their heads. A tiny toy piano sat at their feet. It seemed so non-sequitur, these uniformed men in this space.
“Really. I’m okay,” I said. The tatters of my backpack sat on the bed between us.
Steps echoed behind me on the street. I couldn’t tell if they were getting faster, but I was suddenly aware of just how dark it was.
It had occurred to me no less than five times that walking home just then, at night, was not the best idea. You know when you don’t feel safe. You feel it on your skin, those moments when something in the air is just …wrong.
I quickened my pace, shifting things in my pockets to be harder to get to. Tightened my grip on my backpack. Hurried to the corner and stood in the pool of street light, where I was in full sight of the bare traffic, and pretended to look around to figure out where I was.
The steps walked towards me, and then past me.
The frail looking white man who passed regarded me quizzically. Probably a veteran, probably homeless.
It was nothing. Nothing to worry about. I’m being silly.
I turn the corner–
–and a man is suddenly on top of me.
I’d walked barely a block from the corner, and he came from nowhere, from behind me, from in front of me. He tried to snatch my backpack from my shoulder, and miraculously, I chose not to let go. He tried harder to wrest it from me, and we tumbled to the ground, my hands pressing against his chest, his hands fumbling behind me.
“Please, please don’t do this,” I said.
In the fractions of moments, I surveyed what I could. His untucked shirt. He didn’t seem to have a weapon. He wasn’t threatening me. I clenched my arms at my sides around the straps, pushing him away.
“Please stop,” I begged. Some part of me thinking I could honestly convince him to stop. Against all odds, he did not seem to be trying to hurt me– but he was trying very, very hard to rob me.
“Give it all up,” he repeated gently, quietly, over and over. “Just give it all up.” We were on the ground– how did we get on the ground?– and I had a flash of a memory.
Since I was young, I’ve had reoccurring dreams of being attacked by men. Usually, they are trying to hurt me. Usually I cannot stop them. And usually, I cannot scream.
I scream with such abandon, such intensity, I know it sounds like I must be dying. I am screaming not because I am scared. I am screaming because pleading with him did not work, and I can only hope to scare him away.
If I draw attention to myself, and we are within a handful of steps to an open liquor store, standing in front of a row of homes– attention is not what this man wants.
Unfortunately, he is running with my laptop in my hand.
He had managed in that last moment to rip apart my backpack, the zipper and fabric torn, and take the most valuable thing I had on me: a Macbook Pro, about three grand a pop.
I calmly gathered my things that were now strewn across the sidewalk. I walked past the man taking an evening stroll, who gave no glimmer of recognition at the scream he must have heard. I walked the remaining block home, called 911, and the cops arrived before I even hung up the phone.
I get it.
It’s a rough climate. People are unemployed, people are having a hard time scrounging out a living. I understand why someone picks me out of the night scenery in hopes of scoring a few bucks.
I get it. I do.
I just wish he hadn’t done it. Some part of me honestly wishes I could’ve talked him out of it, taken him to dinner, had a long talk about he how he got here.
He might live in my neighborhood. He probably does.
My chest has long scratch marks where my necklace was broken off, scraping across my skin. My arm has fingerprint-shaped bruises.
My landlady lives in my building, and said I’m the talk of the immediate neighborhood. Not once in fifteen years that she’s lived here has someone been robbed on foot, in her backyard. Eight or nine blocks away– but not here. She wrote the police a long letter, and the neighborhood crime watch.
Since I can’t recognize faces, I’ve seen a dozen men who could be him.
These things happen. It could have been worse. The most interesting thing is, you always wonder what you’d do if something
like this happened.
And now, I know.